Hypertension refers to a condition of elevated blood pressure. It has been called "the silent killer" because it usually doesn't cause symptoms for many years -- until a vital organ is damaged. The number of Americans who have high blood pressure is estimated to be more than 50 million. More Americans than ever have hypertension and the number has risen by nearly a third over the past decade. Being heavy goes hand-in-hand with having hypertension, especially for women. There are many effective drugs that treat hypertension, however, it is also a good idea to keep in mind that natural options are also available that could reduce blood pressure.

What Causes Hypertension?

The exact causes of hypertension are not known. Several factors and conditions may play a role in its development, including:

  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Too much salt in the diet
  • Too much alcohol consumption (no more than 1 to 2 drinks per day)
  • Stress
  • Older age
  • Genetics
  • Family history of high blood pressure
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Adrenal and thyroid disorders

What Are the Symptoms of Hypertension?

There are usually no symptoms or signs of hypertension. In fact, nearly one-third of those who have it don't know it. The only way to know if you have hypertension definitely is to have your blood pressure checked. If your blood pressure is extremely high, there may be certain symptoms to look out for, including:

  • Severe headache
  • Fatigue or confusion
  • Vision problems
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Blood in the urine

Who Is More Likely to Develop Hypertension?

  • People with family members who have high blood pressure.
  • People who smoke.
  • African-Americans.
  • Women who are pregnant.
  • Women who take birth control pills.
  • People over the age of 35.
  • People who are overweight or obese.
  • People who are not active.
  • People who drink alcohol excessively.
  • People who eat too many fatty foods or foods with too much salt.

How Is Hypertension Diagnosed?

Your health care provider can tell if you have hypertension by checking your blood pressure with a special meter called a sphygmomanometer, which consists of a stethoscope, arm cuff, dial, pump, and valve. You can also measure your own blood pressure at home. You should have your blood pressure checked at least once a year to make sure you don't have hypertension.

What Health Problems Are Associated With Hypertension?
Hypertension is a serious condition that can damage the heart and blood vessels, and can eventually lead to several other conditions, including:

  • Stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Heart attack
  • Kidney failure
  • Vision problems
  • How Is Hypertension Treated?

    Hypertension is typically treated by making changes in your lifestyle and with drug therapy. Lifestyle changes include losing weight, stopping smoking, eating a healthy diet (such as the DASH diet, which includes lowering sodium but including daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods), and getting enough exercise, especially aerobic exercise.

    Several types of drugs are available to treat hypertension, including ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), beta-blockers, and calcium channel blockers.

    Tips for Reducing Hypertension

    • Eat more fruits and vegetables -- preferably fresh and organic. Fruits and vegetables have numerous compounds that can dilate blood vessels, including. Fortunately for many chocoholics, cocoa, or dark chocolate, has important flavonoids. Eat more garlic since garlic may reduce hypertension.
    • Reduce salt intake.
    • Try to shed some pounds -- Greater amounts of fat in the abdomen point to an increased risk of developing hypertension.
    • Learn how to sleep better and deeper. Those who sleep deeply have a lower risk for hypertension.
    • Reduce alcohol intake. High amounts of alcohol can certainly aggravate hypertension. Despite its heart benefits, drinking red wine raises blood pressure to the same degree as drinking beer.
    • Reduce or stop smoking.
    • Try to have less stress in your daily life.
    • Reduce fat intake, such as meats, lard, bacon, hydrogenated oils -- fats found in fish are good.
    • Reduce caffeine-intake -- skip that second cup of coffee, substitute caffeine-free herbal drinks, limit herbal teas with caffeine to one or two cups. Caffeine can raise blood pressure in some individuals, even if they are regular drinkers.
    • Exercise, walk at least one mile per day.
    • Drink more water, avoid sodas which raise blood pressure.
    • Drink soy milk and reduce intake of regular milk.
    • Yoga helps those with hypertension.

    Supplements for Hypertension

    If you have hypertension, please discuss with your physician before changing your medicines or adding supplements, especially if you have unstable hypertension.

    • Fish Oils are useful for thinning the blood and improving circulation and it is now known that those whose diets are high in fish oils have a lower risk for hypertension. It would make sense that supplementing with one to five fish oil capsules a day could perhaps lower the risk for hypertension, but we need more studies to confirm early findings.
    • Antioxidants may be helpful for long term health maintenance of arteries, but not necessarily to lower blood pressure in the short term. Doses can be kept low, such as vitamin C less than 300 mg a day, and natural vitamin E less than 200 units a few days a week.
    • Take a natural vitamin E complex, rather than the synthetic dl-tocopherol.
    • Lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant in dosage of 10 to 50 mg.
    • Grape seed extract was shown to reduce hypertension in a study published in March of 2006.
    • Quercetin is known as a very strong blood vessel dilator. Chronic oral quercetin exerts antihypertensive effects in spontaneously hypertensive rats.
    • Genistein is a type of flavonoid found mostly in soy. Genistein helps produce more nitric oxide, a powerful chemical in the blood stream that helps dilate blood vessels. Genistein is available as a supplement. Soy protein supplements are also helpful.
    • B vitamin and coenzyme complex — B6, folate, and B12 are crucial for the health of arteries and to lower homocysteine, an amino acid-like compound in the blood stream that can be toxic in high doses.
    • CoQ10 could be helpful in dosages of 20 to 50 mg. The study is discussed below. High CoQ10 dosages could lead to shallow sleep which is not helpful since deep sleep reduces hypertension risk.
    • Lycopene supplements lowered blood pressure in one study, but if you eat plenty of tomatoes and other foods with lycopene, a supplement is not necessary.
    • Green tea and oolong tea drinkers are less likely to develop hypertension than non tea drinkers. It would be better to drink tea in the morning since the small amounts of caffeine can interfere with sleep if you drink tea later in the day. It would be best to limit tea intake to one or two cups unless there is no caffeine in the herbal tea you are consuming. Another option is to take green tea extracts with breakfast or lunch.
    • Calcium and Magnesium are important minerals helpful in supporting healthy blood pressure.
    • Hawthorn extract may be helpful.
    • Vitamin D is a supplement that can be taken from 200 to 600 units a day.
    • Melatonin once or twice a week at night for better sleep
    • Ginkgo low dose, not more than 40 mg, in the morning
    • Potassium - Potassium citrate has similar  hypertension lowering effects as the best-studied potassium compound, potassium chloride.
    • Dark, but not white, chocolate has polyphenols that may lower hypertension.
    • Arjuna is an Ayurvedic herb that has promising effects in blood vessel dilation. Low dose baby aspirin - be careful since a dose more than 100 mg a day can increase the risk for bleeding and stomach ulcer.
    Punzi Medical Center and Trinity Hypertension Research Institute * 1932 Walnut Plaza * Carrollton, Texas 75006
    972.478.7700 * 972.478.7701 (fax) * punzimedicenter@aol.com